Nothing that I know as a parent strikes as much fear and dread as when my daughter asks, "Daddy I need some help with my homework."
I walk over from the stove to the kitchen table happy to help and at a chance to shine. I look down at the papers strewn all over the table the open math book and the sheet of paper that my daughter is pointing at with her pencil.
"See dad this one."
I bend over and look down at the math problem.
"Ok let's seethe coefficient ofare you sure this is the right question?" I stand up struggling to remember my advanced algebra that I last used thirty years ago.
"Sure it's the right question. It's only advanced algebra."
"But you're in the fifth grade."
"They landed a rocket on the moon with this stuff!" My daughter looks over at me. She squints her eyes.
"You can't do it can you. I can't believe an Investment Banker can't do this stuff. No wonder our economy is in such a mess." I grab her homework out of her hand.
"Of course I can do this. And it's because of this stuff that our economy is in such a mess anyway. Nothing but a bunch of Ivory towered economists, locked up in a room running algorithms." I huff.
"Well dad? Come on I got a lot of homework to do yet."
"NASA can wait for a minute." I grumble. Quickly I grab a pencil remembering how to attack the problem. After a few scribbles, line slashes, and an eraser mark or two I proudly shove the answer back at her. "Tell NASA we have a launch!" I stand to her side crossing my arms in triumph. My daughter rolls her eyes and shakes her head as she checks my answer against the four possible choices. She groans loudly.
"It's not here. Your answer isn't even one of the choices on the sheet. Ahh I'll ask mom when she gets home." I'm about to object when I realize that the spaghetti is over boiling and the sauce is bubbling to loudly. I race to the stove and quite the culinary chaos as I try to calm my shattered ego. After dinner, completed homework, kids in bed, and ruthlessly being teased by my wife I go down into my basement trying to find any books I kept on algebra. When that didn't work I tried the Internet and discovered many other flunky fathers like me all searching for answers to their kids homework while trying to salvage their own dignity. I didn't feel so bad then and after finally finding the answer developed a model so that that type of humiliation wouldn't happen again. I hope that this helps as well.
1. Start early: First day of school sit right by your child's shoulder and work through the homework with them. Besides the bonding it gives you the parent a chance to acclimate to the issues. Dip your intellectual big toe in the homework waters early on and you'll be able to ease into the rest of the year. What I did wrong was to go it cold turkey.
2. Turn the temperature up: Really get involved in the homework. Test both yourself and your child. Play with the problem. Turn it around. Most importantly turn the temperature up a bit and stretch the hardness of the problem making it even harder. I have found that by doing this it shows your child not only your natural curiosity but also that its perfectly alright not to know the answers and its ok to fail a bit. Besides it feels good to wreck revenge and stump the teacher the next day with one of your own questions.
3. Build your own home: We often try and take a problem say determining speed and apply it to real life issues like how does a state trooper determine the speed of your car when issuing you a ticket? Do they use the same math in determine your speed. The same with velocities of baseballs or the plummeting stock market. By trying to apply homework lessons to other fields it expands your child's mind even further and gives the parent a chance to shine by using either their profession as examples or their hobbies as one. We even applied some of the algebra to building homes or sailboats.
4. Spousal shifts: Perhaps the most difficult in terms of continuity. Each parent has their own style, their own approach to solving homework problems. I find that this approach is helpful, especially when dissecting a problem it shows both teamwork and dual creative thinking. That is if you can keep the temperaments of the parents under control and you both come up with the same answers.
5. Timing is everything: Everybody is always rushed and Einstein was right about the space-time continuum it's always speeding up especially at homework time. Children need to process items more slowly than parents. Despite the pressures of time I have found that trying to get homework done while I'm cooking dinner is not the best way for my child to learn. To distracting on both of us. Instead I try to make time in a peaceful environment and then I work not on only solving the problem but try and have my child tell me her approach to how she came up with that solution. This takes more time but she now understands the work rather than processing it.
I'm not always able to implement the six rules above but when I do I find that both my children and I prosper. No longer are there huge arguments that somehow role over to more personal discussions. I have found that this approach just eases tensions all around and even adds levity to the situation especially when I'm struggling with a question.
"Whoops Dad you can't figure it out huh?"
"No pumpkin I'm exploring all the possible approaches and solutions."
My daughter gets up from the desk and walks over to the phone picking it up.
"Ahh Houston we have a problem,"
Well maybe but at least I can now laugh about it.